Report Ties Building Products to Asthma


Paints, flooring, carpets, insulation and other building products formulated with asthma-causing chemicals should be avoided to slow the growing “epidemic” of the chronic inflammatory lung condition, a new report suggests.

Addressing sources of the disease is key to its prevention, the Healthy Building Network advises. And a number of those sources, the organization says, are building products.

Full Disclosure Required: A Strategy to Prevent Asthma through Building Product Selection,” released Wednesday (Dec. 11), identifies many building materials that are linked to the development of asthma.

HBN says that building occupants can be exposed to 20 asthmagens commonly found in these products.

According to the 44-page report, chronic asthma affects 26 million people in the U.S., including eight million children. Factoring in medical costs, lost school and work days, and early deaths, the condition costs the U.S. more than $50 billion annually, the report says.

Screening and Avoidance

The report focuses on screening building-product contents for asthmagens and avoiding those products as strategies to prevention.

“Building owners, landlords, interior designers and architects can use the Pharos Building Product Library to identify products that do not contain top-priority asthmagens,” the report says.

HBN developed the Pharos Building Product Library in 2009. The online disclosure tool includes known ingredients of more than 1,300 building products. The library is used by more than 300 companies, including architecture firms such as HKS and Perkins + Will.

asthma inhaler

Chronic asthma affects 26 million people in the U.S., including eight million children, the report says.

As part of the research for the new report, HBN said it identified 38 asthmagens used in building materials listed in Pharos.

The researchers identified 12 additional chemicals by examining emerging evidence for further research and prioritization.

20 Top-Priority Chemicals

However, of the 50 chemicals identified, only 20 were found to have “exposure pathways that impact building occupants through product installation and/or normal use,” according to current scientific and government literature relied on by the researchers.

“These substances, and the products that use them, may be more significant and less controlled factors in the development of asthma than previously understood,” the report warns.

“However, with this and further research, in many cases it will be possible to reduce and possibly eliminate these chemicals from the built environment as part of a comprehensive asthma prevention strategy.”

The 20 top-priority asthmagens in nine chemical groups were identified as:

  • Acid anhydrides (two types)
  • Acrylates (four types)
  • Ammonium hydroxide
  • Bisphenol A Diglycidyl Ether (BADGE)
  • Ethanolamines (three types)
  • Formaldehyde
  • Isocyanates (six types)
  • Polyfunctional aziridine
  • Styrene

These chemicals are reportedly found in foam insulation, paints, adhesives, floors, carpets and many other interior materials that occupants routinely contact, by touch or inhalation.

Increasing Research

The report also recommends increasing research to understand how building material chemicals may fuel the rising asthma epidemic and to create safer alternatives to asthmagens.

“Environmental, public health, public housing, and other agencies should intensify efforts to identify and prevent avoidable exposures to asthmagens in homes, schools, hospitals and public spaces,” the report says.

The report "underscores the need to provide thorough research to identify the safest materials to use in buildings, particularly homes for families," said Yianice Hernandez, director of Enterprise Green Communities, a national initiative of the nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, of Columbia, MD.

“Housing has been legendary for hazards, including other toxic threats such as lead in paint," said Hernandez. "Now, people who design affordable housing need to pay close attention to materials with chemicals that can trigger asthma and other illness, particularly in children and people who are most vulnerable.”


Public health, public housing and other agencies are urged to intensify efforts to identify and prevent avoidable exposures to asthmagens in homes and schools.

Hernandez oversees Enterprise Community Partners' comprehensive research and evaluation of the economic, environmental and health benefits of green affordable housing.

Discovering Alternatives

The report also suggests that manufacturers work with green chemistry experts to identify and develop suitable alternatives to asthmagens in building products.

Finally, the report says, indoor air quality certifications and building rating systems should incorporate protocols and modifications to address asthma.

“When people doubt that we can improve health outcomes, we’re going to show them the drawers of unused asthma inhalers in green schools,” the report said, quoting Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC president and CEO.

Similar Report

The new report follows a study published in August 2012 linking hundreds of building substances to asthma.

New York-based Perkins + Will, an international architecture and design firm, completed the study, “Healthy Environments: A Compilation of Substances Linked to Asthma,” for the National Institutes of Health.

That report identifies 374 substances found in building products and materials that are known asthmagens and asthma triggers. The list includes 75 substances found in paints and adhesives commonly used in indoor environments.


Tagged categories: Architects; Coatings Technology; Construction chemicals; Contractors; Green building; Health and safety; Indoor air quality; Insulation; Painters; Specifiers

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